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ESPN college broadcaster Robert Lee couldn’t have less to do with the recent racially motivated violence in Charlottesville, Virginia, but his name alone is a big enough problem that he won’t be calling his assigned game in Virginia as UVA squares off against William & Mary on Sept. 2.

Outlets are claiming Lee was “pulled” from the assignment due to his name, but ESPN called it a “collective” decision in its initial statement on the matter, then later a “mutual” one.


The initial statement by ESPN reads:

We collectively made the decision with Robert to switch games as the tragic events in Charlottesville were unfolding, simply because of the coincidence of his name. In that moment it felt right to all parties. It’s a shame that this is even a topic of conversation and we regret that who calls play by play for a football game has become an issue.”

Amid criticism that the move was reactionary and, above all, groundless, the network offered a more robust explanation that offers more insight — and perhaps logic — into the decision.

The decision to pull a broadcaster due to fear of memes and jokes may be questionable, but in an age when social media heckling can effectively derail a nascent career, the decision is more understandable. According to Sports Illustrated, an ESPN spokesperson said Lee himself felt more comfortable covering another game under the circumstances.

Not that the decision to reassign Robert Lee has protected ESPN from sarcasm.

It appears that ESPN may have been damned from the start here and any effort to spare Lee from indignation has failed under the best of intentions.

Lee is scheduled to call the Pittsburgh-Youngstown State game in week one instead.

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